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Brain doesn’t need vision at all in order to ‘read’ material

22-02-2011

Brain imaging studies of blind people as they read words in Braille show activity in precisely the same part of the brain that lights up when sighted readers read. The findings challenge the textbook notion that the brain is divided up into regions that are specialized for processing information coming in via one sense or another, the researchers say.

"The brain is not a sensory machine, although it often looks like one; it is a task machine," said Dr. Amir Amedi of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, head of the team of researchers whose work on the topic is reported in the latest issue of Current Biology.

"A particular area fulfills a unique function, in this case reading, regardless of sensory input modality," he said. Amedi is affiliated with the Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada and the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences at the Hebrew University.

Unlike other tasks that the brain performs, reading is a recent invention, about 5,400 years old. Braille has been in use for less than 200 years. "That's not enough time for evolution to have shaped a brain-module dedicated to reading," Amedi explained.

Nevertheless, brain scans have shown that a very specific part of the brain, known as the Visual Word Form Area or VWFA for short (first discovered in sighted people by Dr. Laurent Cohen of Paris, a co-author of the current article), has been co-opted for this purpose. But no one knew what might happen in the brains of blind people who learn to read despite the fact that they've had no visual experience at all.

In the new study, Amedi's team, which included his doctoral student Lior Reich, used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure the neural activity in eight people who had been blind since birth while they read Braille words or nonsense Braille. If the brain were organized around processing sensory information, one might expect that Braille reading would depend on regions dedicated to processing tactile information, Amedi explained. If instead the brain is task-oriented, you'd expect to find the peak of activity across the entire brain in the VWFA, right where it occurs in sighted readers, and that is exactly what the researchers saw.

Further comparison of brain activity in the blind and sighted readers showed that the patterns in the VWFA were indistinguishable between the two.

"The main functional properties of the VWFA as identified in sighted are present as well in the blind, and are thus independent of the sensory-modality of reading, and even more surprisingly do not require any visual experience," the researchers wrote. "To the best of our judgment, this provides the strongest support so far for the metamodal theory of brain function," which suggests that brain regions are defined by the computations they perform. "Hence, the VWFA should also be referred to as the tangible word-form area, or more generally as the (metamodal) word-form area."

The researchers suggest that the VWFA is a multisensory integration area that binds simple features into more elaborate shape descriptions, making it ideal for the relatively new task of reading.

"Its specific anatomical location and strong connectivity to language areas enable it to bridge a high-level perceptual word representation and language-related components of reading," they said. "It is therefore the most suitable region to be taken over during reading acquisition, even when reading is acquired via touch without prior visual experience."

Amedi said he and his research associates plan to examine brain activity as people learn to read Braille for the first time in order to find out how rapidly this takeover happens. “What we want to find out is: how does the brain change to process information in words and is it instantaneous?"  

BFHU supports academics at the first UK-Israel Conference on Regenerative Medicine

The conference was the inaugural event of the BIRAX - Regenerative Medicine Initiative

12-01-2012

Potential anti-cancer treatment method wins Kaye Award for Hebrew University chemistry student

A strategy for inhibiting a protein that is associated with the spread of cancer has won for a Hebrew University of Jerusalem Ph.D. student in chemistry

20-12-2011

Four of five 2012 Rothschild Prizes won by Hebrew University researchers

Four out of five Rothschild Prizes for academic excellence for 2012 are to be awarded to Hebrew University researchers

18-12-2011

Hebrew University scholar to receive honor by government of Korea

Dr. Cohen is the first Israeli scholar ever to receive this honor

08-12-2011

Winning team of Hebrew U. students to represent Israel in international humanitarian law competition

The Hebrew University team defeated 10 other groups representing educational institutions from across Israel in the four-day competition

08-12-2011

Hebrew University brain sciences researcher receives Swartz Prize in US from Society for Neuroscienc

The $25,000 prize recognizes an individual who has produced a significant cumulative contribution to theoretical models or computational methods in neuroscience.

08-12-2011

China-Israel physics conference at Hebrew University first of its kind

Prominent researchers from China and Israel will participate in a conference on condensed matter physics

24-11-2011

Hebrew University research provides promise for better dealing with osteoarthritis

A step towards better understanding of the biological mechanism involved in the onset of osteoarthritis (OA), which affects millions of people around the world

23-11-2011

Swartz Prize to Prof. Haim Sompolinsky of ELSC for Brian Sciences at the Hebrew University

The prize, which is supported by the Swartz Foundation, recognizes an individual who has produced a significant cumulative contribution to theoretical models or computational methods in neuroscience.

18-11-2011

Academic year opens at Hebrew University with 23,000 enrollment

Among the areas of study that were most in demand, with the highest numbers of those submitting registration for the first year of studies, were medicine, with 1,373; law, with 1,090; economics, with 1,012.

15-11-2011

Four Hebrew University professors named winners of EMET Prize

Four professors at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem will receive on Nov. 20 the EMET Prize for 2011 from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

15-11-2011

China-Israel physics conference at Hebrew University first of its kind

Prominent researchers from China and Israel will participate in a conference on condensed matter physics, to be held from Nov. 16-19 at the Institute for Advanced Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

15-11-2011

Motherhood behavior Is influenced by alterations in brain function

Research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has shown that motherhood is associated with the acquisition of a host of new behaviors that are driven, at least in part, by alterations in brain function.

24-10-2011

Factor in keeping “good order” of genes and preventing disease discovered

A factor that is crucial for the proper positioning of genes in the cell nucleus has been discovered by a team of researchers from the Alexander Silberman Institute of Life Sciences at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem

02-10-2011

Hebrew University ranks 57th in world

The Hebrew University in Jerusalem has been ranked the 57th best university in the world, in a list of the top 500 universities worldwide

18-08-2011

Study shows higher risk of autism among siblings of autistic children

Revolutionary research reveals that recurrence risk of autism among younger siblings of children with autism is 2 to 6 times greater than previously reported

15-08-2011

Hebrew U. Faculty of Law among world's top 100, best in Israel in annual ranking

The Hebrew University Faculty of Law’s ranking among the world’s top 100 and as the best in Israel reflects the quality of research carried out by its researchers, said Faculty Dean Prof. Barak Medina.

09-08-2011

British ambassador visits Edmond J. Safra Campus, furthering academic collaboration

Amb. Gould is actively involved in promoting collaborative scientific exchanges and program between Israel and Britain and serves as chairman of the newly established UK-Israel Life Sciences Council

09-08-2011

How early human embryo acquires its shape

Hebrew University scientists show for first time how early human embryo acquires its shape through organizer cells

19-07-2011

Yissum Presents a Virtual Cane for the Visually Impaired

The new device can assist blind people in estimating the distance and height of various obstacles.

22-06-2011

British philanthropist Trevor Pears to receive honorary doctorate from Hebrew University

The honorary doctorate is being awarded to him "in recognition of his outstanding commitment to social justice and in tribute to his profound friendship for Israel and the Hebrew University."

13-06-2011

How the bitter can produce the sweet

pre-meal dietary supplement developed at Hebrew University can overcome fat and sugar problems

23-05-2011

Prof. Ruth Gavison Of Hebrew U is the Winner Of Israel Prize In Law - 2011

Prof. Gavison is widely recognized as an authority on constitutional law and human rights

09-05-2011

why DNA breaks down in cancer cells

Hebrew University researchers were able to show that it is possible to reactivate normal DNA

05-05-2011

Joint Ph.D. program in environmental life sciences with a University in Singapore

This is the first time that the Hebrew University is offering a joint Ph.D. program with a foreign university

07-04-2011

Israel’s president launches $10-million agreement for brain research

An agreement for collaborative research in neuroscience between the ELSC at the Hebrew U and the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland was signed last week

03-04-2011

Two Hebrew U. IMRIC scientists to be awarded Sir Zelman Cowen Universities Fund Prize for Discovery

Dr. Eli Pikarsky and Prof. Sigal Ben-Yehuda are being recognized for their contributions to the understanding of human disease

31-03-2011

HU opens a graduate program for working in non-governmental development efforts in third world

The program, known as Glocal Community-Development Studies, began its first session of courses with 16 students

29-03-2011

Two Hebrew U professors win prestigious International Medical Science Award

The awards are presented annually to researchers from around the world for outstanding contributions to medical science

23-03-2011

Einstein’s papers go digital

$500,000 grant from Polonsky Foundation to enable digitization of 80,000 documents at Einstein Archives of Hebrew university

14-03-2011

Hebrew U Prof First Israeli to Be Appointed to European Scientific Council

Prof. Danny Dolev of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem is one of seven new members appointed by the European Commission to the Scientific Council, the governing body of the European Research Council (ERC)

23-02-2011

Brain doesn’t need vision at all in order to ‘read’ material

The portion of the brain responsible for visual reading doesn't require vision at all, according to a new study by researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and France.

22-02-2011

The British author Ian McEwan recieved the Jerusalem Prize

Literary Jury panel headed by Hebrew University President Menahem ben Sasson

21-02-2011

Event marking 50 years since Eichmann trial evokes strong emotions

Hebrew University's event marking 50 years since the historic Eichmann Trial, in which some of the major figures involved in the trial participated, drew a large audience and received broad coverage in local and international media outlets.

02-02-2011
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